What is so vital about vitalism? Ludwig Klages, C.G. Jung, and why “the point of life is life”

February 4: Paul Bishop

What is so vital about vitalism? Ludwig Klages, C.G. Jung, and why “the point of life is life”

Two hour ZOOM (1 hour presentation, 1 hour Q & A): 4 pm London time, 11 am NYC, 8 am LA, 10 am Mexico City, Mexico

Robin McCoy Brooks moderates.

This seminar examines the curious relationship (or rather the curious lack of a relationship …) between two thinkers, living in Switzerland at the same time but on different sides of Lake Zurich: C.G. Jung in Küsnacht and Ludwig Klages in Kilchberg. We’ll begin by trying to uncover the occluded tradition of vitalism (or Lebensphilosophie) in German philosophy, before considering in more detail the life and works of Ludwig Klages – a thinker who once described himself as “the most plundered author of the present age.” Yet it could be argued that Jung, far from “plundering” the work of his neighbour on the other side of the lake, conspicuously ignored him for the most part. Why was this? Next we shall turn to examine some of the “signature concepts” of Klagesian philosophy, which demonstrate striking affinities with — yet significant differences from — key notions in Jung’s analytical psychology. Can Jung and Klages help mutually illuminate each other, and in what sense can they be said to validate the principle once articulated by Goethe that “the point of life is life”? This seminar aims to showcase the fascinating thought of an unjustly forgotten thinker and explore the differing ways Jung and Klages drew on (and, in turn, shaped) German intellectual life in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The seminar includes a Q & A session, and questions, discussion, and debate are very much encouraged.

Paul Bishop is William Jacks Chair of Modern Languages at the University of Glasgow, UK. After studying at Oxford and (for a year) at Harvard, Paul has lived and worked in the great Scottish city of Glasgow for nearly three decades. He is interested in all aspects of German culture and thought, in tracing the progression of ideas through time, and in uncovering links between German culture and the concepts of psychoanalysis, with particular emphasis on analytical psychology. His doctoral dissertation, subsequently published with de Gruyter as The Dionysian Self, examined Jung’s reception of the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche. Although he is currently researching the philosophy of Ludwig Klages, the publication of The Red Book and subsequently the Black Books means he keeps returning to Jung’s remarkably rich and fertile thought. He is the author of Reading Goethe At Midlife: Ancient Wisdom, German Classicism, and Jung (2011; republished in 2020 by Chiron); Carl Jung [Critical Lives series] (Reaktion 2014); and other studies on aspects of Jung’s thought in an intellectual-historical perspective (published by Routledge). His most recent publication is Nietzsche’s The Anti-Christ: A Critical Introduction and Guide (Edinburgh University Press 2022).

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